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Lise Payette August 10, 2012
Original French Text: http://www.ledevoir.com/societe/education/356453/lettre-a-une-campeuse-en-colere
Madame, it happened last Friday. I have been thinking about you ever since. I would have liked to tell you in a private letter how upset I was to hear your answer to TVA reporter Jean Lapierre, broadcasting from a campground in L’Islet-sur-Mer. He neglected to identify you. Had I known your name, I would have invited you to a meeting during which I would have tried to help you understand how much your answer to Mr. Lapierre’s question frightened me.
He asked you about the student strike, the well known walk-out last spring that let the wider public know about an issue youth cared about, the high costs of post-secondary education, costs that were going to be further increased by Jean Charest, and that young people decided to decry in public by walking out of their classes and into the street. At first they were alone, then parents joined them, and even grandparents, and the crowd demonstrated very peacefully until those so-called “hooligans” got involved.
The “hooligans” are known to the authorities. Compared to the number of police officers who seem to be everywhere, they are very few. If the hooligans were not stopped, perhaps it’s because the police need hooligans to cause trouble. And if there’s trouble, then it’s alright for the police to resort to violence, isn’t it?
Back to Lapierre’s question: “What would you have done, if you were in Jean Charest’s position?”. With no hesitation, you replied that you would have called in the army to put a stop to all that. I was stunned. I just couldn’t believe my ears.
You and I are about the same age. Maybe you raised a family, and maybe you’re a grandmother now. So let me speak to you as grandmother to grandmother, hoping that you aren’t part of that silent majority that Jean Charest is counting on to save what’s left of his party. I would rather believe that it was Jean Lapierre’s microphone that unsettled you. My question is, where were you in October 1970? If you were in Québec and you understood what it meant to have the army patrolling the streets of Montréal for weeks, how can you wish for this again?
Back then the Canadian army was answering a call for help by Premier Robert Bourassa and Mayor Jean Drapeau, to which then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau happily agreed. The War Measures Act — indeed this is what we’re talking about — allowed police to round up many citizens of Québec, men and women, often in the dead of night, at home, in front of their children, to then throw them in jail without ever bringing charges against them, victims of suspicion because they were writers, journalists, union activists or poets and they dared to speak their mind. You should watch that great movie, Les Ordres by Michel Brault, it might help you remember.
So you would actually wish the same crushing blows on our children who are students and who have a say in the costs of their education and on the massive debt they are saddled with at the start of their careers, as soon as they finish their studies? I can’t bring myself to believe it. Does it not bother you that Jean Charest never gave them the opportunity to speak to him face to face and tell him what they wanted? He never accepted to meet with them. Instead he treated them with contempt. You think that’s alright?
Did you not hear the objections of citizens against Bill 78, now law 12, a law devoid of common sense that goes against the charter of personal rights and freedoms [Charte des droits et libertés de la personne] that has always been the pride of Québec? Did you not sense the shame felt by some police officers whose duty it is to uphold this odious law and who instead chose to turn a blind eye so they would not have to enforce it?
Did you know that street protests, with or without casseroles, are a centuries old strategy used by citizens the world over to fight against governments that abuse their power? Often they are even festive for what they celebrate is solidarity among people.
And what if your dear army, the one you want to call to the rescue, decided to execute the student leaders by firing squad at dawn, just to restore law and order, just as it’s done nowadays in too many countries around the world, would you also approve?
You know, the weather was really hot last Friday. In the heat, things are sometimes said that people don’t mean. I hope that this was the case, otherwise I would be fearful to live in the same country as you. No hard feelings, Madame.
Translated from the original French by Translating the printemps érable.
*Translating the printemps érable is a volunteer collective attempting to balance the English media’s extremely poor coverage of the student conflict in Québec by translating media that has been published in French into English. These are amateur translations; we have done our best to translate these pieces fairly and coherently, but the final texts may still leave something to be desired. If you find any important errors in any of these texts, we would be very grateful if you would share them with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please read and distribute these texts in the spirit in which they were intended; that of solidarity and the sharing of information.